How to become a train driver
Train drivers work across the country or on smaller networks and are responsible for delivering passengers and freight safely and comfortably. This is a high responsibility role that demands attention to detail, excellent time management skills and the ability to think and react quickly.
£20,000 to £60,000
35 hours per week
Guide to working as a train driver
A train driver’s job can be stressful and when unexpected events occur, the role can be demanding. However, this is a job that brings variety, travel, benefits and the opportunity to work as part of a team but with periods in your own company. For a job that has a high salary and the opportunity for promotion, train driving is ideally suited to candidates who strive to develop themselves whilst being challenged.
What qualifications do I need to work as a train driver?
In order to work as a train driver, you will need to meet some specific requirements of your employer. This will include the need to be over the age of 20 years old (for the national rail network) or 18 for those wanting to work on London’s underground. You will also need to live within 1 hour of the area for which you are applying to work.
Applications to be a trainee train driver are usually competitive and some employers may try to filter down applicant numbers by setting further requirements. Some employers, for example, will require applicants to have a high-grade pass GCSE in English and maths.
Once you have been accepted to become a trainee train driver, you will need to pass a medical examination. This is to ensure that you are healthy and safe to drive the trains and this will include an eyesight test.
Some people enter a career as a train driver by working in a closely related role such as a conductor or a passenger assistant. Once these roles have helped to establish an interest in the field, internal applications can be made to become a trainee train driver.
Some employers may also require their drivers and staff to complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. This is to maintain the safety of passengers and colleagues through ensuring that drivers have not committed crimes that may make them a risk to the safety of others.
Essential Skills for Being a Train Driver
Train drivers need an array of skills to ensure that they can work safely and adhere to the regulations of the job, whilst enjoy their day-to-day activities. The role of a train driver can be high pressured as there is a great deal of responsibility placed on each driver. Drivers need to understand external impacts such as weather, times, engineering and local events and must constantly stay up to date with this information to be sure of providing a safe and reliable service.
Additional skills that will be needed to work as a train driver include:
- The ability to react quickly to unexpected events such as a blockage on the track or a passenger alerting the driver to an incident.
- The ability to concentrate for very long periods.
- The ability to remain energetic, focused and professional over long periods of time.
- The ability to communicate well and to provide updates to passengers and network staff when necessary.
- A cheerful and approachable disposition.
- An excellent level of safety understanding.
- A thorough knowledge of trains and the network.
- The ability to use different pieces of machinery and tools.
- Excellent time management skills.
- A professional and neat appearance.
Day to Day Work of a Train Driver
Working as a train driver is not limited to simply moving a train in the correct direction. Instead, a train driver’s day is made up of several different tasks including:
- Transporting people and freight to specific destinations.
- Making stops to collect more passengers and freight where necessary.
- Completing thorough safety checks of the train and all equipment.
- Contacting the network to report any faults, delays or problems that may arise.
- Providing updates to passengers when a delay occurs.
- Controlling the automatic doors on the train.
- Understanding and following the signalling instructions that are given throughout each journey.
- Positioning and transferring engines to the next driver once a shift has ended.
- Completing thorough records of any unexpected events or safety issues that arise.
- Communicating with other train staff, network workers and station personnel.
The role of a train driver is varied and demanding. It is therefore unlikely that any two days will be the same. Even drivers who work on the same journey for long times, the route offers new scenes and each trip brings new passengers. Your attention to detail will ensure that you are always able to make new discoveries on each shift.
How much does a train driver get paid?
A train driver’s salary will depend upon their level of experience. The starting salary for a new train driver is around £20,000 to £30,000, with higher salaries being commanded in London.
With more experience, a train driver salary can increase to between £35,000 and £45,000. Highly experienced drivers who have worked in the role for several years can expect to earn up to £60,000. Train drivers will usually also receive employee benefits such as a pension, sick pay, generous annual leave and usually some medical insurance.
As an additional benefit, train drivers (and usually their immediate family) can expect to receive discounted train travel.
Career Progression for a Train Driver
It will usually take 12 months for a train driver to complete their initial training. Once the training has been completed, the driver could continue to work as they have been or could apply to work for a rail engineering company or in a maintenance driver role using on-track machines.
Once a train driver has gained experience, they could take on additional training that will allow them to supervise and train new drivers. It may also be possible to gain a promotion to managerial positions which would require you to manage the efficiency of a network or specific drivers.
Working Hours for a Train Driver
Train drivers will usually work on a full-time basis and their contracts will usually be for 35 working hours each week. The hours worked are usually spread across 4 or 5 shifts and will include unsocial hours such as evenings and weekends.
Train drivers who transport freight are usually required to work more night shifts than passenger drivers as freight is usually moved outside of peak travel times.
You may be required to work bank holidays as a train driver and depending on your employer, you may receive additional pay and/or time off in lieu of these shifts.